It was a stellar year for action-thrillers in 2011. As Movie Fanatic sat down to draft our Top 10 Action-Thrillers of 2011, this was much more challenging to whittle down than our Top 10 Villains and Top 10 Comedies of 2011.
Although it didn’t make our Top 10 Action-Thrillers of 2011, I Am Number Four deserves a shout-out. That film took a lot of flack, but after seeing it again on Blu-Ray, I Am Number Four is one tight thriller. Haven’t seen it? You should. The Debt is also riveting, but our list was just too crowded.
So, who did make the cut?
Terrifying on every level. The ticking time bomb in Contagion is that the end game of the villain, a virus, is total annihilation of the human race. Besides having one of the best casts of the year, led by Matt Damon, and an esteemed director in Steven Soderbergh, Contagion’s thrills were so real, and that is what made it so riveting.
9. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
When you have a thriller based on the spy master John le Carre’s book, already there is a running chance that the resulting film will be a nail biter. Gary Oldman stars with Oscar winner Colin Firth in the film version of the classic spy novel and what sets Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy apart is how it’s a slow cook thrill. The reveal that is shocking is almost two hours in the making. Those minutes are filled with clues expertly dished out to not only satisfying curiosity, but to feed the fire of wanting to know what’s next.
8. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
In our A Game of Shadows review, Movie Fanatic said that the latest Sherlock Holmes was the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year. The film is simply a blast. And we mean that literally and figuratively as the film is chock full of explosions and near death moments for our heroes that your first breath when entering the theater is likely to be your last until exiting.
7. Fast Five
Who would have thought that the fifth installment of this speed heavy series would be its best? That’s exactly what happened when Fast Five debuted and took audiences for the rollercoaster ride of the year. Producers even upped the ante for the fifth Fast and the Furious by adding Dwayne Johnson as a lawman hot on our speedsters’ tails.
Right off the bat, there is not as much action as one would expect in Drive. But, there is enough action and a bevy of thrills that not only is it one of the best action-thriller movies of the year, it will be one of Movie Fanatic’s Top 10 Movies of the Year (stay tuned for that December 22). Ryan Gosling is a man of all trades. He moonlights as a getaway driver, works his days as a mechanic, and is also a go-to Hollywood stunt driver. Along the way he meets Carey Mulligan and the stakes in his life are suddenly never higher to get the girl, get away and live another day.
5. Tie: Thor and Captain America
Thor and Captain America each have their astoundingly good merits, but in very different ways. Where Thor was Shakespearean in its scope and feel with its dysfunctional and violent royal family, Captain America was wide-eyed and innocent in its good-versus-evil storytelling. Both served their purpose and blew away expectations while simultaneously setting the bar very high for origin stories (hello Green Lantern and Man of Steel, you are on notice). Nothing is a given, but we’d be very surprised if The Avengers isn’t on this list in 2012.
4. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Tom Cruise is back in a big way in the fourth Mission Impossible film. Scaling the tallest building in the world with that stunt in Dubai? Take that breaking into the CIA in the first film! What makes Ghost Protocol so incredible is that it has action that is breathtaking and is equally a thriller in how it sets a pace. Not one movie in 2011 so incredibly went from zero to 160 as effectively as Ghost Protocol.
Saoirse Ronan killed it in Hanna as a teenage girl who discovers she is actually born to be an assassin. Cate Blanchett goes to extraordinary lengths to capture Ronan’s Hanna because if her secret got out, the repercussions would be catastrophic. Eric Bana is Hanna’s dad and as the film begins, we learn everything about how Hanna grew up. She is living in the middle of nowhere in a hut on a Scandinavian snow-covered landscape. Quickly, we see that her father can no longer protect his daughter. He can only hope his years of training with her will bear fruit and they can both live free of a life looking over their shoulders.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Harry Potter series truly ended in a brilliant display of action and thrills. How can you beat the epic Battle of Hogwarts on screen this year in terms of scope, breadth and power? Harry Potter and Voldemort had their final opus in Deathly Hallows Part 2 and it was an enthralling and fitting end to a series that has bewitched us with its magic, mayhem and majesty.
1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Usually it’s really difficult to transfer the inner most thoughts of a character on a screen when capturing a book’s prose. Director David Fincher manages that and more with his utterly thrilling Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There is nothing more we could say about the masterwork of thrills in 2011… well, maybe a littler more! Check out our Girl with the Dragon Tattoo review to discover why the film is simply the best action-thriller of the year.